Author: Nadir SANANOGHLU
Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the football championship of Azerbaijan and matches for the National Cup completed earlier than scheduled. Interrupted in March, the matches were not resumed in June either. That is why the AFFA Executive Committee decided to take stock of the progress made during the season via a video conference.
AFFA considered the existing situation with the global spread of the pandemic, growth of infection cases, lack of time for clubs to conduct training due to the quarantine regime, financial difficulties of clubs and other issues. Therefore, it was decided to cancel the Premier League of Azerbaijan for the 2019/2020 season. The winner of the season and the teams to play in the UEFA Cups are determined in accordance with their current standings. The leader of the championship, Garabagh FC, was declared a national champion. Neftchi and Keshla were awarded silver and bronze medals, respectively. Since the matches for the Cup of Azerbaijan were cancelled, Sumgayit FC became the fourth team qualified for the European Cup.
Interestingly, 11 of 12 participants of the AFFA Executive Committee’s video conference voted to end the championship. Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, a member of the Executive Committee, was the only one who opposed the decision, while Farid Mansurov of MMCA was absent for a good reason.
Plans and scorers
At the same time, it was decided to create a Working Group to prepare a calendar plan for holding football competitions in the country in the 2020/2021 season and training camps for national teams. Participants adopted AFFA’s proposal not to impose financial penalties on clubs for the current licensing season, given the coronavirus pandemic. It was also decided that none of the teams will not leave the Premier League. The clubs were allowed to continue training in compliance with the relevant decisions and recommendations of the Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers.
According to regulations, in the current season, all the players who scored the most goals should be declared scorers. As a result, the scorer of the 2019/2020 season and special awards of the Professional Football League were awarded to four players with seven goals: Stephen Monroz, Bagali Dabo (both from Neftchi), Peyman Babayi (Sumgayit) and Mahir Emreli (Garabagh).
AFFA Vice-President Vagif Sadigov shared his comments on the early completion of the Premier League of Azerbaijan: “It was impossible to hold the championship in such conditions. Football players are not allowed to train under strict quarantine. This can have harmful effects on their health. Injuries can affect the national team. Choosing between the economy and human health, President Ilham Aliyev put health a priority. Human health was a priority for us too when we were adopting the decision.”
Member of the AFFA Executive Committee Mahir Mammadov added that UEFA recommended to complete all championships by early August. “Our clubs trained. But, unfortunately, due to the quarantine, the athletes could not train for the last 2-3 weeks. In fact, the players trained only five days a week. In the Premier League, there were eight rounds left, and in the Cup of Azerbaijan - the semi-finals and the final. The Cup matches could be combined. The likelihood of ending the championship in this mode was low. Due to the long absence of training, the players were easily injured. As a result, almost all of us decided to end the championship."
Although the football community wanted to continue the championship, the situation confirms the relevance of the AFFA decision. Although Spain, Italy and Turkey have resumed the matches, it is difficult to compare the current situation with these countries. First of all, strict quarantine regime is applied throughout the country, which also bans outdoor training. UEFA demands the completion of championships before August 3. Since the hard quarantine regime has been restored, it is not possible to hold the final games of the Premier League and the Cup of Azerbaijan. Another problem is related to the financial situation of clubs. As a rule, the championship results were announced in May. It's no secret that the players demanded additional salaries from clubs for June and July. In this situation, in order to avoid unforeseen expenses, the clubs agreed to end the championship.
Another point is related to weather conditions. Playing games on hot summer days increases the likelihood of serious injuries. After all, Azerbaijani clubs would have to conduct two games a week. If the championship were resumed, the clubs would also lose the opportunity to prepare at the proper level for the matches of the European Cups and the new season. The most important thing is that even if there are no fans during the matches, 100-200 people are present at the stadium, which creates the danger of infection. Therefore, we must agree that at the moment the decision is the most correct.
Garabagh became the champion of Azerbaijan for the seventh time. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, Garabagh held a very modest award ceremony. Fans were not allowed, only the management, the head coach and two football players from the team accepted the awards. The captain of Garabagh, Rashad Sadigov, for the last time in his career raised the championship cup over his head. Due to the pandemic, AFFA could not hold a farewell match for Rashad either.
Now the team has to prepare for the qualification stage of the Champions League, which starts on August 17. Head coach of Garabagh, Gurban Gurbanov, intends to use the remaining time as rationally as possible. “The team has not held official matches for a long time. In addition, without official games, preparation takes more time. Therefore, we must develop a good plan for this period. Although the championship has been summed up, the most difficult period begins for us. It is also the beginning of the transfer season,” Gurbanov said.
Thus, Azerbaijan took the stock of the football season. But for clubs that compete in European competition, the most crucial time comes. It is necessary to draw up a training plan under current conditions, to strengthen the teams with transfers, if necessary. It is expected that during the pandemic, clubs will not travel outside the country and continue to prepare in Azerbaijan. Our rivals at the qualification stage (one game only) will become known on August 9-10.